May 26, 2019
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Opponents of drinking water disinfectant bring Erin Brockovich expert to Maine

Rich Beauchesene | Portsmouth Herald
Rich Beauchesene | Portsmouth Herald
Julia O'Connell of Kittery, center, speaks during a recent informal meeting with representatives of the Kittery Water District over the proposed addition of chloramines to the drinking water. O'Connell's group has been opposed to the chloramines and will bring a water expert from California to speak about clean drinking water.

KITTERY, Maine — The Kittery Water District has announced it will once again postpone the implementation of monochloramines as a drinking water disinfectant to allow for all parties involved to conduct further research.

Submitted photo courtesy of Portsmouth Herald
Submitted photo courtesy of Portsmouth Herald
Bob Bowcock

Meanwhile, Kittery Citizens Concerned About Chloramines believes “it’s time for a second opinion” on the conversation around the chlorine/ammonia combination disinfectant. The informal citizens’ advocacy group, which formed after the recent announcement that monochloromines would soon be added to their drinking water, will host Erin Brockovich’s water expert, Bob Bowcock, for a question and answer session in Eliot May 20.

[Town delays adding disinfectant to water supply over concerns about beer, environment]

Brockovich, an environmental activist who despite her lack of formal education in the law, was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. of California in 1993. Her successful lawsuit was the subject of the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich,” which starred Julia Roberts.

Bowcock, of California, co-founded the Erin Brockovich Foundation 22 years ago, and has 36 years of experience helping communities achieve top water quality. He is president of Integrated Resource Management, was the principal negotiator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s largest drinking water Superfund site representing settlement of a $300 million cleanup project, and served as the National Emerging Chemical Contaminants chairman.

[Water district’s planned switch to new disinfectant concerns locals]

The implementation of chloramines, more specifically monochloramines, was originally scheduled for April, and then postponed to June. Now, the Kittery Water District has announced it will delay further after strong citizen opposition arose.

KCCAC is pitching the May 20 event with Bowcock, at 6:30 p.m. at the Eliot Regatta Convention Center, as a way to “find out how we can attain best quality drinking water without adding ammonia, for an affordable price.”

Kittery Water District Superintendent Michael Rogers has said the change from chlorine to chloramines as a disinfectant is necessary for the water district to complete its $3 million water treatment plant renovation, which will require two periods of shutdown at points this summer and in 2020, warranting purchase of water from the York and Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells water districts, which both use chloramines and have for many years.

[Beer makers, gardeners worried about new disinfectant to be used in drinking water]

Water incompatibility is not an option, Rogers said, and would result in poor taste, odors and color issues.

In addition, he said, it is good emergency preparedness to have water compatibility with neighbors, and chloramines are deemed safe and effective by the EPA, with one in five Americans regularly consuming them.

Citizen concerns have centered on the fact chloramines can kill household fish and amphibians, impact production processes at bakeries and breweries, can’t be used in kidney dialysis machines, and are said to release lead from old pipes and possibly exacerbate health conditions. Chloramines can be filtered out through specialized carbon filters.

[Caribou center earns title of Maine’s best drinking water]

Experts sitting on a panel in Kittery a few weeks ago emphasized that much of the same is already true for chlorine, which the Kittery Water District currently uses as a disinfectant. But at the same public meeting, residents came prepared with their own research, naming several communities across the United States that have had problems with chloramines and opted to discontinue using them.

Kittery resident Julia O’Connell has led much of the opposition charge, and said she’s not satisfied with the water compatibility argument.

“Our water expert Bob Bowcock had said, ‘No, you don’t have to do that. That is a bogus reason,’” O’Connell said. “There are many water districts in the country that blend water.”

[COMMENTARY: Why there’s cause for concern with Maine’s water supply]

O’Connell’s research led her to the water district head in Poughkeepsie, New York, who told her they stopped using chloramines because of water user skin and respiratory issues, among other reasons.

O’Connell said her hope for the May 20 event is that all water utilities involved in the immediate chloramines decision attend.

“Ideally, they would allow Bob Bowcock to get a tour of their treatment facilities because his expertise is invaluable,” she said. “We need to educate the general public. A lot of people don’t understand what this means, ammonia in the water. And also, we really need to have a collaborative conversation and meeting with other water district heads.”

On Tuesday, Rogers said the Kittery Water District will not be attending the Eliot event.


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